• How Long is a Dentist Required to Keep Patient Records?
  • November 20, 2013 | Author: Nathan A. Gaffney
  • Law Firm: Hall Booth Smith, P.C. - Atlanta Office
  • We all know that good record keeping can be essential to the overall quality of a patient's dental care. However, a lot of dentists don't realize that proper record maintenance and retention is a requirement of their dental license, not to mention highly advisable from a legal/risk management perspective. This blog entry focuses on how long a dentist should keep patient records. We'll discuss the required content of patient records in future posts.
          
    Let's start with the basic rule: Georgia dental regulations require a dentist to keep patient records for 10 years from the date of the patient's last office visit. Regulation 150-8-.01(h)(4). This rule applies regardless of whether or not the patient is an adult or a minor. We'll talk more about minors in a minute. But for now, let's focus on the potential consequences of discarding patient records too quickly. As suggested earlier, the failure to retain patient records for the required 10 year period can cause you to lose your license, but there are some other potential consequences too: If you are sued by a patient, then a well-documented patient file might be your best defense. So the failure to maintain the patient's records within that ten-year period may cause an otherwise frivolous claim to survive summary judgment. In addition, depending on when the patient file is destroyed, you may be subject to a claim of spoliation. "Spoliation of evidence" is the destruction or failure to preserve evidence that is necessary to contemplated or pending litigation. See, e.g., Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC v. Campbell, 258 Ga. App. 767 (2002). The sanctions for spoliation are often quite severe and can cause you to you to lose a malpractice case.

    Now, there is nothing preventing you from keeping patient records for longer than ten years, and in some cases, that may be advisable. For example, we recommend that dentists keep the file of a patients who are under the age of 18 until that patient reaches the age of 23. The reason for this is that the statute of limitation on a malpractice claim tolls until the minor reaches the age of 18. Even then, however, Georgia has a five year statute of repose, which may permit the filing of some lawsuits up to five years after the patient turns 18. Hence the reason why we recommend keeping the records until the minor patient turns 23.

    One final tip: consult your professional insurance carrier about patient record retention. Insurance carriers usually have specific guidelines covering the length of time that you should maintain patient records.